I don't have to preach liturgically this weekend, but I was thinking about the Gospel nonetheless.
Last Sunday we heard the great double commandment: We are to love God with all we are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But what will this look like in our spiritual practice? This Sunday we are given a positive and negative example.
Religion can go either way for us. It can teach and enrich us toward openness and love and make us better people. It can make us more gentle, or it can make us more hurtful. It can serve our health or it can make us sick. The same is true of other basic vectors of human life: sexuality, family, food, etc.
The scribes in the Gospel use their religion as a way to indulge themselves: their pride, their vanity, their security. As the old saying goes, "power is the lust of the clergy." Their religion is not about loving God and neighbor, but about loving their own self-satisfaction.
The poor widow, on the other hand, gives to the Temple out of her poverty. And that's the trick to real spiritual practice. We must give not out of our riches but out of our poverty, not out of our power but out of our humility.
We must not, like the scribes in the Gospel, indulge ourselves in the (erroneous) idea that we are something great. We must not even please ourselves with what one friar called "delusions of adequacy."
Hardly anyone of us is a living saint. Nor are we spectacular sinners. Both our goodness and our sinfulness are unremarkable for the most part. To be humble is to accept the truth, to realize that we are "poor in spirit."
Now with this knowledge we can do one of two things. We can panic and try to fool the world into thinking we are something special, or a genius, or a saint, or whatever. And religion can be a big help in this project, as it was with the scribes! Eventually we can even fool ourselves.
Or we can accept our poverty and our insignificance. And when we find this kind of genuine humility, we can offer the little good we do have to the world. And to offer the world something truly humble is to offer it something fresh and about which it knows little these days. In this way we can imitate the widow whom Jesus praises today.